Congresswoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., has called upon the country’s major banking chains to open more branches in her district. The southern Los Angeles area that Waters represents is underserved by financial institutions, a situation she seeks to change by putting pressure on major banking institutions to make good on their pledges to do better by Black America.

Banking deserts

As in other parts of the country, Black neighborhoods in the 43rd District tend to have less bank branches than are needed to serve the population, a phenomenon called “banking deserts” that exacerbates the racial wealth gap in the country. To highlight and overcome the problem for her district, Waters called for representatives from a number of major banks to join her at the town hall. Representatives from City National Bank, PNC Financial Services and Wells Fargo attended the meeting, while Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and U.S. Bancorp failed to join the meeting. “When are you going to open up a branch in my district?” Waters asked an executive of PNC Financial Services, according to News One. This echoed her call to each of the represented banks to open branches in the district.

Waters serves as ranking member of the Financial Services Committee in the House of Representatives; thus, she has long played a role in regulating the banking industry and holding it accountable for its failures. In 2022, Waters sought answers from the nation’s largest banks and from Equifax, one of the major credit bureaus, after it was revealed that inaccurate credit scores were being reported, a phenomenon that most severely impacted young Black Americans. Earlier this year, after the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, Water proposed tighter regulations on banks to prevent further crises. Last month, Waters sought to additionally punish Citibank after it was fined over $25 million for discriminatory credit practices against Armenian Americans.

While these high-level reforms and oversight measures are intended to ensure the overall stability and fairness of the U.S. banking system, Waters’ recent town hall is a step toward ensuring that, at least within her district, individuals — especially Black people who have traditionally been underserved by major banks — have sufficient access. With many of the bank executives at the meeting giving vague or noncommittal answers to Waters’ questions, it remains to be seen how quickly equitable access will become a reality. But with her track record, hopefully Waters will continue to call out the banks for their failures and pressure them into making real changes that benefit those who have gone without reliable access until now.